WATCH | Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin admitted this week that medical marijuana could help veterans. More veterans groups and lawmakers are putting pressure on the government to soften federal marijuana policies to allow more research and more treatment options for veterans.
"There may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful and we're interested in looking at that and learning from that," Shulkin told reporters Wednesday during a White House briefing on the state of affairs at the VA.
That's a big shift in tone from other top Trump Administration officials, particularly Attorney General Jeff Sessions who's taken a hardline stance on weed.
"I believe that everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and by medical experts," Shulkin, a physician, added.
Veterans groups like the American Legion, Weed for Warriors and the Veterans Cannabis Project have been pressuring lawmakers and the VA to rethink its marijuana policies and do more research on how cannabis can be used to treat mental health issues and chronic pain.
Pro-pot groups and lawmakers advocating for more research on medical marijuana cite evidence suggesting that cannabis can help veterans struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and could be a substitute for addictive opioids prescribed for pain.
"We're losing 15,000 veterans easily a year that don't need to die," said Sean Kiernan, President of the Weed for Warriors Project, a non-profit that advocates for medical marijuana treatment for veterans.
Kiernan said he applauds the VA for taking a "positive step" but said he's frustrated by "a continuation of blocking of the science that these individuals are demanding.”
Under current law, doctors at the VA can discuss medical marijuana treatment with patients in states where use is legal, but they cannot prescribe medical marijuana.
But lawmakers are taking steps to relax those restrictions. Earlier this month, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a military funding bill including an amendment to allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana as a treatment for patients.
And more lawmakers are speaking out about the need for medical research and are calling for the drug to be rescheduled so more tests can be done.
"Research needs to occur," said Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) one of the founders of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. "Essentially research on the medical side of marijuana applications has effectively been prohibited."
In March, Johns Hopkins University pulled out of a marijuana PTSD study due to a dispute over federal drug policy and whether to challenge federal rules requiring researchers to only use medical cannabis grown by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The university was partnering with the California-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) on the study, which will provide the first clinical evidence of whether or not Marijuana can treat PTSD.